Goals from Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata saw Chelsea progress to their second consecutive FA Cup final as Southampton’s lack of ambition for large parts of the game cost them. Giroud’s slaloming strike just after half time sent Antonio Conte’s men on their way before Morata’s header late on in the half sealed a comfortable victory.
The Southampton game plan was obvious from the start. Shane Long and Charlie Austin were left to chase hopeful balls that were sent in their general direction from their deep-lying defence. The Blues, and Eden Hazard in particular, were controlling the opening stages and looked dangerous with every attack. The Belgian sent a powerful shot whistling past Alex McCarthy’s right-hand post with his weaker foot before Willian cut inside on his left foot and struck the crossbar. The Saints seemed to gain some composure after those two openings and limited Chelsea to few clear chances.
Cesar Azpilicueta found Olivier Giroud in the penalty area but the Frenchman could only guide his acrobatic, second attempt wide of the near post. At the other end, Willy Caballero was rarely troubled and his most strenuous work came from collecting Mario Lemina’s low shot. Azpilicueta was involved more in attacking play than defensively and his flick on from Cesc Fabregas’s corner evaded his teammates and agonisingly flashed across goal. The Saints’ lack of confidence, partially because of the ease of Chelsea’s comeback last weekend, restricted them and they were punished for a lack of focus after the restart.
Straight from kick-off Eden Hazard drove deep into the Southampton half causing panic across the entire backline and was perfectly picked out by Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea’s star man brought the lofted pass down and picked out Giroud in space in the area. The former Arsenal man weaved his way through several Saints defenders and the goalkeeper before, off balance, poking the ball into an empty net to give the Blues the lead. All Southampton’s hard work in the first 45 minutes had been undone in just under 60 seconds as they found themselves behind and needing a goal.
Further into the half, Tiemoue Bakayoko was brought on to sure up the midfield while Mark Hughes deployed Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic in search of a goal. The former tested Caballero who was somewhat fortunate to see Redmond’s long shot rebound off his left hand and past his right-hand post. Caballero was again involved as a cross came in just minutes later. He was challenged in the air by Charlie Austin but it didn’t look as if the English striker had made enough contact for a foul to be given but that’s what Martin Atkinson gave as the ball crossed the line.
The Saints were getting closer and closer to an equaliser and would’ve been level had it not been for an extremely heavy first touch from Long when Caballero had rushed out. More composure from the Irishman and he had an open goal to roll the ball into. Antonio Conte sensed his side were losing their grip on the lead and replaced the labouring Giroud with a fresh Alvaro Morata and just moments later, his substitution paid off. Cesar Azpilicueta found himself in that familiar crossing position on the right and floated in a ball for his compatriot to head into the far corner. That combination of Spaniards has produced a total of 7 goals this season.
Charlie Austin also pulled one back for the Saints just seconds after the restart but, on the stretch, he couldn’t guide his effort on target and it crashed off the inside of the post and fell to a blue shirt inside the penalty area. Eden Hazard was looking like scoring every time he charged forward and almost pulled Chelsea further in front but for Alex McCarthy’s outstretched left hand. The Belgian’s cross was almost comically converted by a combination of Bednarek and Yoshida but the ball fell gently onto the roof of the net. The final whistle confirmed a final date with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United; a tie with its fair share of subplots.